By God's grace we have been lords in our land since the beginning
of time, since the days of our earliest ancestors. God has elevated
us to the same position which they held, and we beg him to grant
it to us and our children. We have never desired and do not now
desire confirmation of this from any other source.
Communism first took hold in Russia, a nation with a centuries-old reputation for despotism, servility, and brutality. The Marquis de Custine, whose Letters from Russia (1839) led many to dub him "the de Tocqueville of Russia" observed that "Government in Russia is military discipline in the place of civil order, a state of siege which has become the normal state of society." This authoritarian tradition strongly influenced the Russian Marxists, and through them much of the world socialist movement. Some of the important features of czarism that Communism drew upon and intensified included:
The histories of most of the nations of Europe are marked by multi-polar and limited centers of power. King, church, and nobles usually had to share power to a significant extent. As legal historian Harold Berman writes:
The pluralism of Western law, which has both reflected and reinforced the pluralism of Western political and economic life, has been, or once was, a source of development, or growth - legal growth as well as political and economic growth. It also has been, or once was, a source of freedom. A serf might run to the town court for protection against his master. A vassal might run to the king's court for protection against his lord. A cleric might run to the ecclesiastical court for protection against the king.
Law and Revolution
The Russian form of government is an absolute monarchy, tempered
Russia, in contrast, was for centuries marked by the extraordinary concentration of power in the hand of a single man, the czar. Ivan III began the use of the term, a Russified version of "caesar." From the Byzantine Empire, the Russians acquired not only the Eastern Orthodox faith, but also a careful theoretical defense of absolute and undivided power.
When one of the czars went too far, dissidents normally had to submit or turn to violent rebellion. Before 1917, the last truly significant civil unrest ended in 1613, when the Romanov dynasty assumed the throne. The Romanovs carefully cemented their nation's tradition of total and autocratic power. Within a generation, the Romanovs cast off the oversight of the nobility; Czar Peter the Great, assuming power in 1696, tightened the monarchy's grip even further:
At the head of the state was the tsar or emperor, possessing absolute, unlimited powers. An ancient assembly, or Duma, of nobles, which had formerly exercised vague legislative rights, was practically abolished, its place taken by an advisory Council of State whose members, usually noblemen, were selected by the tsar. All traces of local self-government were similarly swept away, and the country was henceforth administered by the tsar's personal agents.
Carlton Hayes, A Political and Social History of Modern Europe
While the rest of Europe, under the influence of the Enlightenment, slowly moved to limit monarchical power and protect human rights, Russia's czars showed their determination to resist unwanted foreign influences. Catherine the Great, eager to improve her international reputation, postured as an "Enlightened monarch"; but as serfdom faded away in the rest of Europe, "...Catherine was extending the scope of serfdom. Her vast grants of crown estates to her officials and lovers clamped the fetters of bondage on a multitude of hitherto free crown peasants. Without opposition from Catherine, the nobility began to impose serfdom in newly annexed lands such as the Ukraine." (William Langer, Western Civilization)
When the French Revolution and its aftermath placed absolute monarchy at risk all over Europe, the czars doggedly suppressed dissent. As de Custine put it, "In Russia, despite their limitless power, the rulers have an extreme fear of criticism, or even of plain speaking." Opponents of the status quo risked banishment to the harsh prison camps of Siberia. Only defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 sufficed to pressure Czar Nicholas II to recognize civil liberties and create an elected assembly to limit his power. It appeared that Russia might finally be on the road toward modern limited government, but by 1907 the czar had reneged on many of his concessions. The czarist system overthrown in 1917 was not as autocratic as that of Czar Peter or Czarina Catherine, but it had resisted change like no other monarchy in Europe.